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Sports

June 28, 2013

Once a strength, TE now question mark for Pats

(Continued)

Belichick was his usual uninformative self when Tebow signed when he was asked where the newcomer fits in.

“I don’t know,” he said. “We’ll see.”

Brady already was working with a revamped group of wide receivers after losing his top two pass catchers. Wes Welker had 118 receptions last season, then signed with Denver. Brandon Lloyd had 74, then was released.

The turnover is so thorough that the Patriots may open the season without Brady’s top seven targets from last season. Five are no longer with the team and two — Gronkowski and wide receiver Julian Edelman — may not be healthy enough. Of the 402 passes caught by the Patriots last season, the recipients of only 101 remain. And that includes Gronkowski’s 55.

In the offseason, the Patriots signed free agent wide receivers Danny Amendola, Michael Jenkins, Donald Jones and Lavelle Hawkins and drafted Aaron Dobson from Marshall and Josh Boyce from TCU to compete at that position.

“It takes a lot of time” to develop chemistry between a quarterback and his receivers, Brady said after the last minicamp practice on June 12. “Guys have been working pretty hard. We’ve been here the whole offseason to try to get up to speed.”

Now he has to do that with his tight ends.

In 2011, Hernandez and Gronkowski set NFL records for tight ends on one team with 169 catches, 2,237 yards receiving and 24 touchdown receptions. The old record for touchdown catches? Hernandez, Gronkowski and Alge Crumpler set that in 2010 with 18 for New England.

Now the Patriots have just two healthy tight ends who caught passes for them last season — Michael Hoomanawanui with five and Daniel Fells with four. Jake Ballard, the former New York Giant who spent all last season on injured reserve with the Patriots, could play a bigger role than either of them if he’s healthy. They also have rookie free agents Zach Sudfeld and Brandon Ford.

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